My Top 5 gar­den herbs

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I am no cook. But I can grow stuff! I hap­pen to be mar­ried to an ex­cel­lent cook who not only pos­sesses amaz­ing nat­u­ral tal­ent in this de­part­ment but cook­ing is her No. 2 pas­sion (af­ter knit­ting).

With a lit­tle coach­ing from the cook in the fam­ily, I present you with my Top 5 gar­den herbs.

It is not good enough that they are use­ful in the kitchen. They have to grow and thrive in a gar­den or con­tainer.

It is not good enough that you can grow them with aban­don. They must have a use­ful place at the ta­ble.

1. Basil. Ex­pe­ri­enced gar­den­ers and cooks will know that this is a no-brainer. Of course basil is No. 1 on my list.

It is ver­sa­tile as a culi­nary herb ( listed as one of the pri­mary in­gre­di­ents in a pizza gar­den) and it grows eas­ily, given cer­tain con­di­tions. The first is the need for sun­shine. In its na­tive In­dia, it re­ceives more than a lot of heat and sun­shine. Basil is a frost ten­der an­nual. You can start the seeds now or you can pick up small plants at your gar­den re­tailer. Keep them in your sun­ni­est win­dow un­til the end of May be­fore you plant them out.

Basil is an ex­cel­lent con­tainer plant. Plant it in a qual­ity plant­ing mix and don’t re-use the soil from last year as it is tired out. Put the old plant­ing mix in the gar­den and work it in the ex­ist­ing soil.

Pinch new growth on the plant as it ma­tures. Use the cut­tings in your cook­ing and en­joy the thick­en­ing ef­fect that pinch­ing has on the fo­liage of your plant.

Basil is avail­able in a mul­ti­tude of flavours. Look for lemon and cin­na­mon flavoured basil and my own, Blue Spice Basil, which is de­scribed as “heav­ily fra­grant with spicy vanilla tones” on the back of the pack­age. The copy­writer is a wine taster in his spare time.

2. Dill. My cook/wife loves dill. She grows it her­self near the kitchen door as she says that I don’t grow enough of it. Dill is a cinch to grow in any spot in the gar­den with a min­i­mum of six hours of sun­shine. It prefers an open, fer­tile soil but is not all that fussy. Avoid clay-based soil. The big chal­lenge in grow­ing it is to avoid hoe­ing it out when you are weed­ing.

Har­vest the leaves as the plant ma­tures for fish dishes and the seeds make great pick­les. To grow it next year just let some of this year’s crop drop its seeds. You will have dill for life.

3. Rose­mary. This is an ap­petite stim­u­lant. If you find your­self with­out one (an ap­petite) just run your hands through a rose­mary plant and in­hale the aroma as you ac­ti­vate the es­sen­tial oils on the plant. Give it a few min­utes and you will be rav­en­ous. Well, maybe.

It is very use­ful in pork dishes, fish, soup and rose­mary bread (with a tonne of olive oil — I can make a meal of this).

It loves the sun, needs to be dry between wa­ter­ing and loves rain­wa­ter. Rose­mary grows well in con­tain­ers and when you clip its fo­liage for use in the kitchen it just gets thicker and bet­ter look­ing. Don’t plan on keep­ing it over the win­ter, even though it is de­fined as a peren­nial woody herb. Mine al­ways die in Jan­uary.

4. Chives. If you are the per­son that I keep meet­ing who says, “I can’t grow any thing, but I love your col­umn,” this is for you. Ev­ery­one can grow chives. I grew them when I was four years old and sold small di­vi­sions to my neigh­bours for five cents.

Sow seeds di­rectly into a con­tainer or plant store-bought ver­sions right into the gar­den or con­tain­ers.

Chives are very win­ter hardy. The last clump that I planted, I stole from the com­post heap at the com­mu­nity gar­den on the Les­lie Street Spit. Yes, that was me. A nice lady with a dog let me in.

5. Pars­ley. Tech­ni­cally this is a bi-an­nual. It grows for two years and then dies. I have good luck with it in the gar­den and in con­tain­ers. It is un­usual in that it only needs four hours of sun to do well.

Look for the clas­sic ‘curly leafed’ pars­ley for gar­nish­ing any dish, adding to a salad or soup. Ital­ian pars­ley is tougher, grows more quickly and is use­ful in cook­ing. I don’t rec­om­mend it raw, though no doubt some­one eats it that way.

All herbs, with the ex­cep­tion of basil, love heat but toler- ate cool tem­per­a­tures. Al­low herbs to be­come dry between wa­ter­ing and do not fer­til­ize any of them; although basil will re­spond well to plant food.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, it is best for the gar­dener to stay out of the kitchen, but if you hap­pen to have tal­ent in both de­part­ments, grow­ing your own herbs can be as much fun as us­ing them.

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